"How about you fight me for it?" I asked with a grin, drawing a few cheers from the onlookers.
I nodded to the soldiers and villagers who were still struggling to rise and limp away.
"I think you'll find a me a bit more challenging than that lot."
Griever shrugged, "Very well. It's your body."
I drew my sword, while my opponent simply readjusted his grip on his. We both fell into stance and began to circle.
I made a few tentative strikes, trying to gauge Griever's response. I had fought him a few times before, for real, but never for very long. I charged forward with a powerful side swing, which Griever easily turned aside and then used the opening to ram me away with his shoulder.
Note to self, don't get too close.
Griever came on swinging his sword with gusto. I blocked full-on, my sword ringing with the blow, and I winced. Griever was a big guy, well, bigger than me at least and was able to pack more power behind his movements. I wouldn't be able to match him in strength, I knew that.
I'd have to be quicker.
I jabbed with my sword, then made an overhead chop. Griever got his sword up with plenty of time, but I wasn't looking to hit him with that strike. The awkward block had Griever's sword above his head, and I kicked out, taking advantage of the opening. Barely seeming fazed, my opponent launched a flurry of blows with his weapon. My blocks were just barely managing to turn away his sword, and I recognized his tactic. The repeated hard fast strikes were attempting to get me enough off-balance so that Griever could disarm me.
I waited a split-second after turning away Griever's sword, giving him just enough time to start his next strike, then I spun underneath the blow, planting my foot in front of Griever's and sending him over it with a push. I rushed quickly, but Griever already had his balance back and was making a counter strike. I parried and swung at a diagonal, aiming for Griever's left side.
He met my blade with his, then brought both our weapons up, over our heads, then down to the opposite side, his weapon now on top. He backhanded me.
Stumbling backwards I spun my sword around in my hand, bringing it back overtop of Griever's and smacked it down with a flick of my wrist. I grabbed my opponent's shoulders and brought my knee up-
I froze, recognizing the voice instantly.
"We are planning a strike against a dangerous enemy, today, and not only are you not doing your job, but you are tiring out our able bodied warriors, not to mention risking injuries!"
I winced, sheathing my weapon as I turned to face Jem.
"It was just a friendly spar to get us warmed up."
Jem got very close, but unlike with Kate, my thoughts didn't wander in the slightest.
"I don't care Corin! Get your men ready and do something useful!" She started to stomp away but turned back after a few steps to add, "And stop fooling around!"
To the onlookers it seemed like she was simply reiterating her point, but I knew better.
"She knows..." I muttered to myself.
"Knows what?" Asked Griever, startling me from my brief reverie.
"Nothing. She's just... overreacting."
The big man chuckled, "Better not let her hear you say that. Or any woman really. If they weren't overreacting before you said it, you can bet they will be afterwards."
I nodded, laughing with him, before another shout from Jem sent me on my way.
A couple hours later, the camp was ready move. Everyone was tense, the camp was nearly devoid of any sound other than the rustling and clinking of equipment.
The plan was to emulate a typical Hawk raid. We would be divided into four groups, and make our way as silently as we could towards the home of the fae. We would be out of sight of the other groups, but definitely within earshot as we moved through the quiet forest. If a group fell under attack, the others could sneak around offer aid before an attacker knew what was happening.
Jem explained the plan to us, her voice calm, but her constant glares at me an obvious sign that she was anything but calm. When she assigned us to our groups, she made sure that both her group, and Griever's were in between Kate and me.
She definitely knew.
As we broke to go take command, I caught Kate by the arm, and wouldn't let go until she turned to face me.
"What?" She half-whispered, trying not to catch Jem's attention, "You realize she-"
"Yeah I know. I just... Be careful out there ok Kate?"
Kate's hand found my own and gave it a squeeze. "I will. I'll see you at the entrance?"
"Um, sure! I'll find you once we get there and regroup."
Kate smiled, and I felt ridiculously like a teenager trying to set up a-
"Corin! Kate. Let's go!" Shouted Jem.
We rushed off to our groups, and minutes later we set off into the forest. The attack was underway.
The approach to the entrance of the fae's home was pretty uneventful. Not a fae in sight, and no noise suggesting battle a few hundred feet away where Griever was leading his group. When we made it to the cave, I looked around for Kate.
There was no sign of her, or her contingent.
I approached Jem who was talking with Griever. Giving the man a nod, I stood and waited for Jem to acknowledge me.
"Corin" she said coldly, "What do you wa-"
"Where is Kate?" I said, my voice way too calm.
For a split second, Jem's impassive look slipped away, replaced with the same nervousness that was working it's way through me, but then it was gone and Jem's mask was back in place.
"I don't know Corin I'm sure she-"
"Don't know?" I yelled, receiving a few looks from those around us. Lowering my voice, I continued. "How can you not know Jem? You were the closest group to her!"
"WHERE IS SHE JEM!?"
Jem turned away and Griever stepped in between the two of us, a sign that the conversation was over.
"Captain!" I barked.
"Assemble our squad. We're going out."